An improved radar system is patentable, even if it is implemented entirely in a computer

In a recent Hearing the UK IPO decided to allow Accipiter Radar Technologies’ patent application. In allowing the case the Hearing Officer overturned a long-standing objection from the examiner who was prepared to reject the case for being no more than a computer program. As we have reported previously, this happens rarely at the UK IPO. In fact, there were only five cases where such an objection was successfully overcome in a Hearing last year.

The invention in this case related to a radar system and method for three-dimensional sampling and characterisation of avian activity. This supported real-time organisation and storage of radar track data to permit generation of reports that allow users to quickly appreciate a new hazardous situation. Importantly this was achieved entirely in software. The applicant argued that, although the invention was implemented in software, it nevertheless overcame the computational limitations of the data storage and querying tools of prior systems.

In assessing whether the invention was excluded from patentability the Hearing Officer applied the four-step test approved in the Aerotel/Macrossan judgment, along with the signposts established in AT&T/CVON Innovations.

The examiner had originally argued that the invention related solely to the field of excluded subject matter, specifically as a computer program, since it merely amounted to software analysis of data from conventional radar systems. The Hearing Officer disagreed and accepted the applicant’s argument. According to the Hearing Officer, the invention integrated a radar device with a specialised track database, providing a “dual data storage model” which consequently allows the generation of reports that cannot be produced by prior systems. The Hearing Officer concluded that the integrated system is “something more than a computer so the contribution goes beyond a computer program; i.e. “a better radar system” (thus meeting the first AT&T/CVON ‘signpost’).”

The applicant should be credited for continuing to fight the case, especially since these objections are usually upheld at a Hearing. This case demonstrates that subject matter exclusions can be difficult to judge and that an applicant should not necessarily abandon a case when an examiner digs in their heels with an excluded matter objection.